Baking through American History: 1917 to 1945 and the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

We’re moving forward in time as we bake our way through American History with American Cake by Anne Byrn. We started all the way back in the 1600s and now I’m going through to talk about some of the fun historical facts for each time period and then share one example cake. This time we’re talking about 1917-1945, a period of time in American History that included the end of World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression and World War II. So a LOT was going on.

A lot was also going on in the world of baking – some in direct relation to world events and some more independent. Here are some interesting facts from this time period:

  • During the 20s, the invention of freon gas lead to the modern refrigerator. No longer having to rely on iceboxes allowed for more flexibility and the invention of the ice box cake. It also paved the way for refrigerated desserts.
  • This was also the period of time where the CAKE MIX came to be! Many of us have probably used a cake mix (nothing wrong with that! I love a good cake mix) and they were on the market as early as 1930.
  • George Washington Carver’s promotion of the peanut and it’s many uses also lead to the creation of the peanut cake!
  • Another major cake development was the creation of the modern cheesecake. Although cheesecakes had existed previously, they were nothing like the dense, creamy cheesecake that came on a crumbled cookie crust.
  • The Great Depression led to the development of many eggless cakes that were baked on very carefully rationed ingredients. The multi-tiered extravagant cakes of the turn of the century made way for more practical, special occasion cakes.
  • The rationing of ingredients continued into World War II where people came together to make cakes with available ingredients. The war also led to themed cakes such as the Brooklyn Blackout cake inspired by the mandatory blackouts enforced to protect the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
  • Following the war was really when the cake mix took off as there was a new market for home conveniences from women who had entered the workforce in the war and were now adjusting to life post-war.

So that’s a bit of a summary of this time period – now for the featured cake, the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake!

The Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

The Brown Derby was a Hollywood hot spot, a restaurant where the Hollywood elite mingled together and tourists tried to catch a glimpse of someone famous. The Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake is a chiffon cake recipe that was created by the restaurant owner Robert Cobb (who also created the Cobb salad!) for a special patron of his – gossip columnist Louella Parsons who was always on a diet and wanted a lighter “grapefruit” cake that would fit into her grapefruit diet! Voila – the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake was created! Cobb’s recipe for chiffon cake was later sold to General Mills!

So here’s how the cake is made! First, you prep the grapefruit zest and juice!
Grapefruit for the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

Grapefruit for the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

Then you sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt).

Sifting together dry ingredients for Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

To the dry ingredients, you add oil, egg yolks, lemon zest and the reserved grapefruit juice!

Making the batter for the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

After combining that well. In a separate bowl, you beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on high until they form stiff peaks.

Beating egg whites for Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

Stiff Peaks for Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

Then you gently fold in the egg whites and pour into your cake pan!

Cake batter for the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

While the cake is baking to golden brown – you start on your grapefruit frosting! A combination of cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, grapefruit zest and vanilla!

Frosting for the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

Frosting for the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

After the cake cools, you slice it in half, fill with frosting and grapefruit pieces!

Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

Then you finish it off with more frosting and more grapefruit! (Please ignore both the whole in the middle of our cake and the less than perfect grapefruit arrangement, we had some issues with this cake!).

Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

So there it is! Overall, this was not my favorite cake – I think it was a bit tooo grapefruity for me. But I loved learning about the history and it was fun to be transported a bit back to old Hollywood!


About Lindsey

Hello! I'm a 30 year old, newly married, lady living outside of one of the best cities in the USA! I work in communications, love to read, recently purchased an RV with my husband (yay for road trips!) and am looking forward to starting a family soon-ish. I love to smile and hope to make other people smile too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *